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PR – A GUIDE FOR START-UPS

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As a technology PR agency, we get approached by many start-ups. Our usual advice? Don’t do PR, yet. It’s an unusual sales tactic for a PR agency, but we work with high-growth and high-value tech companies in corporate, B2C and B2B PR as well as valuation-raising and crisis communication programs and there’s not a great deal about PR we have not experienced. 

The fact is, the majority of start-ups are not ready for PR.  Rather than rushing into it, we would recommend they invest their time and focus their limited resources on getting their product as good as it can be. 

However, you may feel that your company is at that stage.  But how do you know?  Go through our checklist to find out, and don’t worry if you decide you’re not ready for PR.  Read on; we can still help.

Are you ready for PR?

So, how can you recognise when the time is right for you to begin thinking about PR?  There’s no set time, but ask yourself the following questions and if you score a full complement of “yes’s” then you could well be ready…

Are you confident of your product?

Do you have a product you are 100% confident about? Have the bugs been solved?  When other people trial your product, are they able to operate it successfully, does it look as close as it can do to its final version (if appropriate)?  Is its concept easy to grasp?

Who are your fans?

Have you made the most of your own network? Don’t worry about pestering people, your own network can form a user base of evangelists who have the potential to get the word out.  Ask charmingly, but ask everyone… friends, acquaintances and family are all fair game!

Who’s your spokesperson?

Do you have someone in the company who can be dedicated to PR? There is nothing more frustrating for you, your agency or a journalist than opportunities being missed because actually no-one at your organisation has the capacity to deal with any PR opportunities when they come in.  Someone at your organisation has to commit to being the first point of contact and the spokesperson.   The spokesperson you pick needs to be media trained so they can be relied on to represent your company in the best possible way.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story to tell?  It is not enough to say, “we’re still here and still selling our product”, you need to a beginning, middle and end. How was it conceived?  Who are the people behind it? What problem will it solve, who needs it and what’s its future? Too many start-ups, understandably as they have sweated blood over the product for years, think its existence alone is the story.  It isn’t.

Can you afford PR?

Do you have the money to spend on PR? Is this the best use of your funds at this time?  If it’s a choice between investing in the product to make it as perfect as possible and PR, pick the product. Once the product is perfect the PR will have more punch.

If you can answer yes to all of these, start looking for the right agency. Be clear about what you want to achieve from PR (that includes increased awareness, driving sales, acquisition etc) and draw up a clear brief for prospective agencies: the more you share about your business plans, the more successful the agency will be.  Make sure that the account manager that you’ll be working with is someone you can get on with.  Ideally, you’re going to have a long and close relationship and they will see the good and the bad in your product at times, so trust and understanding is essential.  If the culture of the agency does not reflect your own values then the relationship may falter.

Assuming you’ve decided that you’re not quite ready to go down the full agency route, there are things you can do to get your PR journey started on your own. 

Firstly, we need to think about what PR is, and what it isn’t.

What PR is….

Media relations?  No, but media relations is a big part of what we do. Writing press releases and working with a network of journalists is the basic and tactical part of PR, but it’s a very small part.

When it’s working at its best, PR is reputation management.  Reputation is not only essential during the good times, but it is essential during the bad times too. It is reputation that will help you get through tough times. You cannot put a price on goodwill. Reputation building doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time – treat it like a relationship.  And just like a relationship, it can collapse quickly and a good name can be damaged.

A good reputation affects your ability to get on short lists, to hire the best people in a competitive market and to sell products and services at a premium, even during tough times.  It’s also essential for increasing valuation, allowing you goodwill through a crisis and gaining media coverage over time. 

What PR is not

A replacement for sales.  PR doesn’t replace sales, it works with them.  It’s not a way of controlling what’s written about your organisation – we don’t control the media, we control the message. 

How to work with the media

Forget about press releases and save them for your most important announcements with the widest appeal.   Write really short emails in the meantime.  Relationships are key.  Don’t pester the journalist and don’t try and control the story.  At this stage your job is to be helpful, and that’s it.  If you prove yourself to be a reliable and useful source of information, then you stand more chance of increased coverage further down the line. 

What’s your story?

Your PowerPoint pitch to your investors is NOT your story.  Journalists are rarely interested in profile pieces on unknown founders, but if the story of the product is strong, and exclusive to one publication, you stand a chance.  Don’t waste time talking about the marketplace, think about the personal story, or the local story.  What problem is your product solving?  What’s causing the problem? Who’s experiencing the problem?  Every company does a million things, but in order to stand out, you need to know what your business is truly unique in and use this as a hook for the media.

The 5 Pillars of a Good Story

There are five pillars for good stories;people, data, products, events and emotions.  Journalists constantly think about a single story within the broader social context. As a start-up who’s done its research, you’re sitting on a heap of data, so think about how you can use it. You’d be surprised at what kinds of stories lie in data, and what that data says about the economy, lifestyles or trends.

To develop a compelling message, run it through the RIBS test.

RIBS?  Relevant, Inevitable, Believable, Simple.

  • Relevant

It’s relevant to most people and most businesses.  It’s got a b2b and b2c angle.  Who is your audience, and is your company solving a problem that they care about? What matters to them about that problem? Why does your solution deserve attention?

Fight for greater relevance. Make it a priority in your positioning.

When sales software company Salesforce first started, to be more relevant to a larger audience, Marc Benioff came up with the “End of Software” campaign. At the time, people were having bad experiences with software; it was massively expensive, time-consuming and prone to failure so this made the company instantly more relevant to a bigger market and audience.

  • Inevitable

You want people to feel that whatever you’re developing is inevitable.

If you can convince the reporter that whatever you’re doing makes intrinsic sense and that they can see it realistically happening, your journey to relevance will be that much shorter. That’s what gives you momentum.

Mark Zuckerberg has often said that even before he founded Facebook, he believed that a technology company would help connect the world; he just never dreamed that he would play such a defining role. The idea of connecting the world seemed inevitable, it just wasn’t obvious that a group of young people were going to be the ones to do it.

  • Believable

You can be relevant, and your product may even seem inevitable, but you still may not be believed. You have to convince people that your company is the one that can make it happen — that you’ll be the ones to carry the ball over the line.

  • Simple

Somehow you have to break through, and the way to do this is to keep things simple.  Take your messaging and edit it down and get it to its essence. What is the one line you want people to remember? You only get one chance. 

How to bait journalists for your story

You need to provide data and statistics in bite sized chunks of content.  Do the legwork for the journalist so they can weave them together, hopefully with you at the heart of the story.  But remember, be helpful first, get coverage second.   Try and avoid overly complex language or jargon that won’t be understood by anyone outside your industry.   The wider the comprehensibility, the wider the appeal and the more likely you are to be covered.

Who should I approach?

Trade publications are probably your best bet initially unless you have a product with very wide consumer appeal. Trade magazines are looking for industry experts who can provide context and insights. Pick a journalist that tends to write about start-ups and pursue them politely.

Nationals are looking for something that ties in with a major news story or trend.  Freelancers are a good bet, as if they think the story is strong they’ll try different publications so you don’t have to.

How to annoy a journalist

Tell them you can definitely get those figures/that picture/that interview and then don’t deliver.  Talk about something you’re not confident on and then make them look daft.  Pester them for more/bigger/better coverage.  Pitch them on irrelevant topics.  Use jargon, be vague about figures and investors, have no or low quality pictures.

Want to know more?

Get in touch with us here.  We were founded in 2002 by Colette Ballou, one of the most inspiring and awarded women in the tech industry in Europe.  We have offices in London, Paris and Berlin and we also cover Ireland, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland.

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